CARLOS MERIDA (1891-1984)
Carlos Mérida – a pioneer in Latin American Modernism - was a Guatemalan artist known primarily for as a muralist and printmaker, but also for his paintings which merged Pre-Columbian aesthetics with pictorial ideas.
Mérida was born in Guatemala City in 1891 and grew up in the western mountain valley of Quetzaltenango. His first passion was music, but when an illness left him with permanent hearing damage, he turned to the visual arts. In 1912 he and his good friend Carlos Valenti traveled to Paris. Tragically, Valenti committed suicide soon after they arrived, but Mérida continued the journey. In Paris, he lived next door to the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and Roberto Montenegro. He studied with the Dutch Fauvist Kees van Dongen and the Catalonian painter Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa. He also met Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Piet Mondrian, and other leaders of the European avant-garde.
In 1914, he returned to Guatemala, where he had a showing of work he had done in Europe. Living again in Guatemala, Mérida immersed himself in learning about the art and culture of his native Maya and Zapotec culture. This changed him. “The impressions I received overshadowed everything I had learned in Europe,” he said. Mérida’s use of Mayan art was a means to make European trends more relevant to his own heritage. In the late 1920s, he returned to Europe, where his work underwent a shift inspired by the avant-garde works he observed. He eventually developed his characteristic abstract style of geometrically conceived figures and forms. In his later works he combined modern European influences—Cubism and Surrealism, and the paintings of artists such as Paul Klee, Joan Miró, and Wassily Kandinsky—with aspects of Mayan art. Among his important works were mosaic murals for the Benito Juárez housing development in Mexico City (1952; destroyed in an earthquake in 1985) and for the Municipal Building in Guatemala City (1956). Mérida died on December 22, 1984 in Mexico City, Mexico.
Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others.